It’s been a big year for Smackdown. It celebrated its 15th Anniversary in October, and it has fairly recently been announced that Smackdown will be moving back to Thursdays next year, which should give it some impetus that it’s currently lacking. But when you think about it, some of the more iconic moments in WWE history happened on the blue brand. Then they went through the brand extension, where Smackdown was consistently the better wrestling show. It has been under the leadership of Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Paul Heyman (all on and off screen), as well as the likes of Vickie Guerrero, Teddy Long, Kurt Angle, John Laurinaitis and even Zack Ryder. It has gone from The Rock’s show, to the better brand, only to fall into irrelevancy in recent years. I’m going to take a look back at some of the best moments over the last 15 years, and then look at why nobody cares about it anymore.
This article is part 1/3. Here I’m going to look at some of the best matches and rivalries to race the blue brand. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of the most iconic and memorable things we have seen on Smackdown.
WWE Championship: The Rock vs HHH w/Shawn Michaels as the Special Referee (1999)
Well why not start off this kind of list with the first ever main event of Smackdown? This had two of the top stars in the company, who had been long-time rivals and would carry the company through 2000 in the absence of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Throw in the outgoing Commissioner that was Triple H’s former DX cohort, and you had all the makings for a fiery main event. This would end with HBK siding with his old buddy, superkicking Rock, and costing him the match in the process. It was a nice way of kicking off a new era, keeping that unpredictability element that Raw had done so much to create.
Intercontinental Championship: Jeff Hardy vs Triple H (2001)
By all means, on paper at least, this should have been nothing more than a squash. A former World Champion, part of the Power Trip, with the backing of the McMahons, up against a tag team specialist who hadn’t really done much as a solo competitor up until this point. But that’s really not how it turned out. In one of the biggest upsets in Smackdown history, Jeff Hardy defeated Triple H to become the new Intercontinental Champion. With Jeff being one of my favourite wrestlers, I love this moment. Again, it highlighted the unpredictability of WWE TV back then, and a title change always makes a show seem more important.
Tag Team Championships: Fatal-4-Way TLC – The Hardy Boyz vs Edge & Christian vs The Dudley Boyz vs Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho (2001)
This in a lot of ways is the forgotten TLC match, for obvious reasons. I watched this match a few days ago, and it actually is really good. Knowing what we know now, about injuries and what people would suffer through in later years, there were a lot of times I cringed. But at the time, the things I cringed at now were the things that made the match great. There is a lot of talent in this match, with 6 future World Champions competing, so it was always going to be good. And having already had several TLC matches, you knew you could trust these guys to deliver, and deliver they did.
WWE Championship: Iron Match Match – Kurt Angle vs Brock Lesnar (2003)
WOW. This match really is an all-time classic. 60 minutes of two of the best wrestlers in the world at the time doing what they do best. It was fairly different for an Iron Man match, as Lesnar got himself intentionally disqualified early on with the intent of damaging his opponent early on, and it worked to great effect. Lesnar took the early lead, which turned out to be unassailable. Angle fought back, but couldn’t quite get Lesnar to tap out in time to level the scores, and the hour expired with Lesnar screaming in pain enduring an Angle Lock, but crucially one fall ahead. You could easily argue that this is the best match in Smackdown history. If you can’t remember it, or just haven’t seen it, look it up. You won’t be disappointed.
Undertaker vs Edge (2007-2008)
Who was the face of Smackdown? In a lot of ways, Smackdown was Edge’s show. In so many other ways, Smackdown was The Undertaker’s show. This whole feud started when Edge cashed in a Money In The Bank briefcase for the second time to win the World Heavyweight Championship from Taker (moving to the blue brand in the process). They went through Hell In A Cell, TLC matches, Taker was forced to leave the company, Edge was thrown straight to hell and was put out of action. These two went through wars together, and dominated the Smackdown title picture for most of the 2000s both together and apart. Two of the biggest names in WWE history. What could be bad about it?
Chris Jericho vs Rey Mysterio (2009)
This was a fantastic rivalry over the Intercontinental Championship. This was while Jericho was going through probably the best phase of his career, and he really made you feel like he desperately wanted to take Mysterio’s mask. These two were creative enough to come up with some extraordinary moments too, such as Jericho reversing the 619 by de-masking Mysterio, then rolling him up for the pinfall victory while he was covering his face. That kind of thing was genius, and we had months of it. 2009 wasn’t exactly the best period for WWE, but this was definitely a highlight.
Jeff Hardy vs CM Punk (2009)
And this was another one. I’ve already commented that Hardy is one of my favourites, so this was a bittersweet feud. On one hand, it made absolute sense. Hardy has had a lot of well-documented issues with substance abuse, whereas we all know CM Punk is the straight-edge saviour. And also, Jeff Hardy had an unbelievable support at this time. He was rivalling, if not beating, John Cena in terms of crowd reactions. The promos felt real, felt particularly raw. It was one of the more legitimately emotive feuds we have seen in recent times, and it was the last we saw of Hardy in the WWE to date. But at the same time, this was where CM Punk really arrived on the main event scene. It was after this that he became the best performer on WWE TV, and the best in the world. The departure of one top name, and the arrival of another.
CM Punk vs Rey Mysterio (2010)
Talking of the best in the world, and raw emotion, soon after the Hardy feud Rey Mysterio crossed Punk’s path. At this time, Punk was the leader of the Straight-Edge Society, doing (unsurprisingly) the best work on TV. He was getting so much heat. And again, this was personal. Like Jericho, Punk targeted the mask of Mysterio, but there was also a really sinister moment that made Punk so hated. I am of course talking about Mysterio’s daughter’s birthday celebration. Mysterio had his whole family in the ring, and announced to the crowd that it was his daughter’s 9th birthday, and led the crowd in singing happy birthday to her. But of course, that brought Punk out, and he too sang happy birthday in a really creepy, fantastic moment. That’s the kind of thing that made you want to see Punk get beaten to a pulp, and that’s the kind of thing that is missing from today’s heels.
So there you have just 8 matches/rivalries that played a key part in Smackdown’s history. There are of course, so many more. Part two will look at some of the more isolated moments and characters in Smackdown’s history. These are all just things I’ve picked out though, I want to know what your great Smackdown matches and rivalries are. Get in touch by the usual means, with the links below.